The Hot Spot

Harry Madox (Don Johnson) is a man with a past, a feckless past of drifting and scamming. He usually manages to get out of town just before things blow up on him, then heads out in search of a new town where he can start the sorry business all over again. A town like hot, dusty Taylor, Texas, for example. It's not much more than a strip joint, a used car...read more

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Harry Madox (Don Johnson) is a man with a past, a feckless past of drifting and scamming. He usually manages to get out of town just before things blow up on him, then heads out in search of a new town where he can start the sorry business all over again. A town like hot, dusty Taylor,

Texas, for example. It's not much more than a strip joint, a used car lot, and a few tired houses baking in the sun; little to catch a man's eye, you might think, but that would depend on what the man wanted. Madox is a classic pulp hero, the kind of man who blows through stories by James M. Cain

and Jim Thompson, David Goodis and Charles Williams, on whose novel (Hell Hath No Fury) THE HOT SPOT was based. He's a hustler and a grifter who's got all the angles covered. He figures all women are whores and all men are dupes, and he's just waiting for that one big score that will change his

life. Madox cons his way into a job at Harshaw's Used Car Lot, figuring it's the best deal in town, and soon runs up against the two women who will drive his every thought and action.

First, there's Dolly Harshaw (Virginia Madsen), a blonde bombshell in a pink convertible who was put on earth for the express purpose of making men sweat and squirm. That Madox works for her husband (naturally he's much older that she) only adds to her appeal, and the way she fondles the gearshift

and rubs her thighs together sends a message it would take a blind man to miss. The town may be hot, but Dolly is hotter. Then there is Gloria Harper (Jennifer Connelly), a long drink of water with a virginal smile that seems to hide some secret sorrow; she's Harshaw's bookkeeper and the sight of

her patiently typing and filing, that evasive, slightly sad look on her face, is too much for Madox to resist. Soon he's involved with both women and working out what seems to be a foolproof plan to rob the local bank. Needless to say, things don't go exactly right for Madox, largely because Dolly

proves to be every bit the conniver he is.

Director Dennis Hopper's terminally cool sensibilities ought to be the perfect match for such ludicrously overheated material, and sometimes THE HOT SPOT comes very close to making it all work. Rather than playing the film noir cliches for revisionist irony, Hopper lays them on the line as though

they were brand new, and his faith in the power of repressed eroticism and violence is bracing. The streets shimmer, the cars reflect lethal shards of sunlight, everybody sweats and the thermometer inches past the 100-degree mark. This is the same overheated territory David Lynch explored in WILD

AT HEART, delivered without a self-conscious smirk. But THE HOT SPOT doesn't quite come together. Part of the problem is its length; at two hours and ten minutes it meanders rather than building up a head of steam and barreling straight through logic and plausibility on the way to Hell. And part

of the problem is Don Johnson; though he turns in a perfectly respectable performance, he doesn't have the right kind of sleaze for the role. In a movie that cries out for a rangy, weathered loner whose sex appeal lies in his apparent indifference--Scott Glenn or Lance Henriksen, for

example--Johnson is salon-tanned and smarmy. It's difficult to get past his smooth, pampered flesh to the brutalized soul of Harry Madox. In addition, the madonna/whore dichotomy looks particularly dated--Dolly is such an over-the-top slut and Gloria such an untouchable virgin that it plays like a

porno movie convention, bringing out the impulse to nudge and snicker. THE HOT SPOT is stylish enough to get away with it all for awhile, but in the end it's dragged down by the sheer weight of flesh and sweat. (Nudity, sexual situations, profanity.)

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  • Released: 1990
  • Rating: R
  • Review: Harry Madox (Don Johnson) is a man with a past, a feckless past of drifting and scamming. He usually manages to get out of town just before things blow up on him, then heads out in search of a new town where he can start the sorry business all over again.… (more)

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